Talk Categories Modern Spiritual Life | Talk Locations Mahidol University

Faith and Times

Human beings have always longed for happiness since ancient times. Our aspiration to seek happiness has never changed as society has progressed. Yet what is true happiness? Can material wealth bring about inner happiness? Will it last long? Let’s examine “happiness” and find the answer from a different perspective.


“Regardless of whether we have religious faith or not, each person seeks to lead the most meaningful and satisfying life they can, so it is necessary to mutually respect each other and be willing to learn from each other. In this day and age, it is very important that we approach our world with an inclusive and open-minded attitude.”

Speech from Khenpo Sodargye

Ways of Seeking Happiness

Introduction of Khenpo Sodargye

Khenpo Sodargye was born in Drango in the Kham region of Tibet on the fourth day of the sixth month of the Tibetan calendar in 1962. After being ordained at Larung Gar Buddhist Institute in 1985, Khenpo relied on Dharma King Jigme Phuntsok Rinpoche as his root guru. Throughout the years, Khenpo has been invited to give lectures to Beijing University, Tsinghua University and the University of Hong Kong, Hunan Normal University, Nanjing University, Renmin University and many other universities. From the year 2011 onwards, Khenpo has given presentations at various international universities. So today we are very lucky to have Khenpo with us. Let’s have a round of applause before he gets started.

Ways of Seeking Happiness

Today I’m delighted to be here with professors and students at Mahidol University. The professor told me that there are people here from fifteen countries, all with different nationalities and different religions. Just now, at the entrance, I also noticed national flags belonging to 17 countries, if I counted correctly. In any case, it is my great pleasure to be in such an inclusive and open-minded environment and to have the opportunity for intellectual exchange.

So-called “happiness” is something people all over the world are looking for. Day after day, from morning to night, every person spends their entire life in the pursuit of happiness. I believe everyone here today, including myself, is interested in happiness. Of course, ways of seeking happiness vary from person to person. Some rely on material satisfaction while others rely on training their minds. It has been said that the lowest form of happiness is obtained from material things, while a relatively higher form of happiness can be obtained through art, and the highest form of happiness is obtained through religion or spirituality.

Today we are going to talk about life science and the art of happiness. Generally speaking, the happiness I seek is probably quite similar to that which you do. It’s just that in my case, Tibetan Buddhism is the path I follow to achieve happiness whereas you may follow Christianity, Islam or another religion, or no religion at all. In any case, each person seeks to lead the most meaningful and satisfying life they can. Regardless of whether we have religious faith or not, it is necessary to mutually respect each other and be willing to learn from each other. In this day and age, it is very important that we approach our world with an inclusive and open-minded attitude.

Similarities Between Thailand and Tibet

I first visited Thailand 14 years ago, and at that time I felt this country was very peaceful and tranquil. Now that I visit here again after 14 years, I feel that the tide of commercialism has somewhat weakened people’s sense of happiness. Thailand is renowned as “the Land of Smile”, which is quite similar to Tibet, in so far as many westerners and easterners think that we Tibetans are very happy and always wear joyful smiles on our faces. 14 years ago, I saw many Thais with happy smiles on their faces, but today I feel things are a little bit different.

As I come from Tibet and the source of the Mekong River is located in the Eastern Tibetan region of Yushu, the same river passes through our two homelands and connects us in many ways. There is much we share across our cultures as well as much we can learn from each other. The Menam River is a branch of the Mekong River. It originates on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. In fact, major rivers in many Asian countries including India and China originate from the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. By the time the water reaches here, however, it has passed through countless cities and has been polluted by industrial waste, and so it is not drinkable anymore.

I worry that the water in Tibet will also become undrinkable at some point in the future. It has recently come to my attention that more and more people from China and other countries are coming to Thailand to spend their vacations. The number of tourists is increasing. Similarly, many people like to travel to Tibet since it is famous for its blue skies and white clouds. So I think we both face some challenges related to tourism.

On the one hand, having more travelers from around the world is a good thing. The economic boost of tourism brings taller buildings and fancier cars. On the other hand, however, the traditional religious culture seems to be suffering somewhat. These days many young people attach little value to precious spiritual traditions and beliefs and instead are completely mesmerized by what they see in TV shows, movies and glossy advertisements. These are the things they are obsessed with.

I feel people in Thailand are quite similar to Tibetans in many ways. For instance, when a baby is born, usually it is a monk or another Buddhist who gives the baby its name and blesses it by chanting sutras. We also have similar traditions in Tibet and almost any big event incorporates Buddhist ritual. Whether or not future generations of young Tibetans will maintain these traditions, however, is uncertain.

In Thailand, there are temples and stupas in almost every village and town. It is the same in Tibet. For instance, though not very big, the county in which I live has about sixteen townships with more than twenty monasteries. So it is quite similar to Thailand.

Throughout the long history of humankind, social, religious and ritual traditions of great value have been passed down to successive generations. We would be extremely foolish to abandon these traditions in the belief that science can solve everything. Sooner or later we will realize the great error of our ways.

The Negative Impacts of Science

The Negative Impacts of Science

Yet many young people these days regard Buddhism, or any religion for that matter as unable to bring them direct benefit in the same way that money can. This mistaken view is unfortunately common among young people today. Some feel that ancient religious traditions are not very relevant in the current age of science and technology. Actually this kind of attitude only reflects a lack of understanding of the true meaning of life. People believe that science and technology have great value and bring great benefits to human life, which is quite true. That science brings about convenient transportation, fast communication and comfortable living conditions is something anyone can readily acknowledge. However, whether science can solve all of humankind’s problems is extremely doubtful indeed.

Throughout the long history of humankind, social, religious and ritual traditions of great value have been passed down to successive generations. We would be extremely foolish to abandon these traditions in the belief that science can solve everything. Sooner or later we will realize the great error of our ways.

Over the course of history, a number of scientists have experienced great regret about the impact of their discoveries and inventions. For instance, the English astronomer, Martin Ryle, won the first Nobel prize for his astronomical research in 1974. He won the prize due to his great contributions to the technology of radio telescopes. His research was applied to military objectives, however, and caused vast damage during the war. Martin Ryle realized the adverse impact of his research. Before his death, he said that it would have been better to have become a farmer in 1946. He regretted having become a scientist. He said it was on account of his ongoing research into radio telescopes from 1946 onwards that he was able to make the breakthrough discovery. Since this discovery was then used in the development of weapons to destroy the human race, however, he said it would be better for him to have become a farmer in 1946 instead. Although he left these dying words, it was too late and nothing could be done.

Einstein had the same experience. The application of his scientific discoveries proved crucial in the invention of the atomic bomb, which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of people during the Second World War. Einstein felt extremely regretful and tried hard to convince the US President to stop using nuclear weapons. However, in this case it also turned out to be too late.

Throughout 5000 years of human history, there have been approximately 15,000 wars leading to the deaths of several billion people. During the last century, in particular, more than 90 countries were involved in violent conflict, and the war-related death toll reached about 200 million.

Why was the last century the bloodiest on record? An important factor was science. It would be so nice if the development of science were to lead to a decrease in conflicts in the world. However, if weapons of destruction are routinely employed whenever conflict breaks out, the lives of every person in the world will be in danger. So, who are the creators of science? We human beings, of course. In many ways, all of these weapons we have made are simply tools for eradicating our own selves. Therefore, we need to call for peace, non-violence, and equality around the world.

The Buddhist Approach to Peace

All major religions carry the same message of love, kindness and positive human interaction. The Buddhist approach to peace is one such example. In ancient India there were two kingdoms, one of them called Kosala. When the two countries came into conflict with each other, the Buddha Shakyamuni advised the King of Kosala, Pasenadi, that victory breeds more enemies, and yet defeat is painful, so it is better to resolve conflicts peacefully. Given the complexities of the current global political situation, the religious message of peace is unlikely to be accepted by people everywhere, but I believe it is just a matter of time.

The experience of Burmese politician Aung San Suu Kyi is a good example. Many people initially objected to her struggle against violence, but eventually they came to realize that non-violence is crucial for the survival of humankind. Based on her story, a famous French director made the film, The Lady. There is a scene where she faces the barrel of a gun and vows that for the sake of democracy, freedom and peace for her country, she is willing to sacrifice her own life.

Indeed, each individual has the responsibility to strive for the peace of humanity. When we talk, on such a grand scale, some may feel that it has nothing to do with their own lives and is therefore not worthy of too much attention. Yet morality and ethics are absolutely vital for every single person. I understand that all you students here at the International College will go on to become officials after you return to your own countries. If a person lacks a kind heart and an upright character, he won’t come to any good, regardless of where he lives. If someone is motivated to become a leader by the prospect of embezzling money and getting rich, then even if they succeed they will be the worst kind of leader.

 Faith in the Current Age

These days many people think the important things in life are nothing but money and romantic love. When talking about other things to them, it is like talking to a brick wall. We use the idiom, play the lute to a cow, to describe this situation. This means when beautiful music is played to a cow, it makes no response at all and obliviously keeps on chewing grass. However, should it hear the sound of a calf or fellow cows lowing nearby, its attention will be roused immediately.

I have been to many colleges and universities. It seems to me that college students these days are mainly concerned about their future careers and families. Besides these two things, they don’t talk much about how to be a better person. I am not familiar with the situation here, but I imagine things are much the same. In my view, no matter the country in question, the most important thing is for young people to nurture a kind and upright character and a genuine willingness to help others.

In this day and age, many people’s religious faith tends to be quite superficial. Yet if our faith is firm and sincere, we will be able to face the ups and downs of life, including economic hardship, political turmoil, and other kinds of misfortune with a calm and stable mind. Therefore, as young people, you have to understand that what science has brought to humankind within a few centuries can never replace the value of religions rooted in human history for thousands of years.

The great politician and former Indian President Nehru once commented that, in this world of storm and strife, hatred and violence, the message of the Buddha shines like a radiant sun. He also said, at no time was that message more needed than in the modern world of atomic and hydrogen bombs. Two thousand five hundred years have only added to the vitality and truth of the Buddha’s message. And not just Buddhism, all major religions have their own contributions to make to human society.

I often feel it is a great pity, therefore, in this new age of scientific innovation, economic buoyancy and global interconnection that the precious bedrock of religion is being slowly eroded. And as a result, we are losing our traditional sense of moral conduct. Blind faith is common among people these days, toward both religion and science. If you believe in science, it is necessary to analyze carefully the reasons for your belief. Likewise, if you follow a religion, you also need to think deeply about why you believe in it. Indeed, a sincere religious faith can have incredible power.

The famous Philosopher George Berkeley once said, “When I close my eyes, the cliff in front of me will disappear.” Many people thought this was absurd. Actually he was talking about the power of religion. All of you here might want to think about this. Sometimes when we open our eyes, we might not find happiness, yet we may obtain it when we close our eyes.

Sometimes, when we encounter problems, it seems there are no possible solutions. However, if we can see the slightest glimmer of hope, we should persevere and work through the difficulties. Because the ups and downs in our life are just like day and night, if we can just hold on, the temporary darkness of the night will recede into day, and the day itself will bring brightness and sunshine.

Our Responsibilities and Attitudes Toward Happiness

Material Wealth vs. Traditional Culture

I’m not sure if you get my point. I really worry that in this modern age of science, external attractions with sophisticated commercials and so on may eventually replace our traditional religions and spirituality. If after a short period of 100 years the religious traditions of Thailand, Tibet and other areas become nothing but empty rituals, this will be a big loss for human beings.

I am concerned, perhaps excessively. There is an old Chinese story of a man from the Kingdom of Qi who feared that the sky might fall in. Yet there was no reason behind this fear. Nevertheless, I really feel it is important for young people to pay attention to this issue. Because without religious or spiritual faith, regardless of how abundant our material wealth is, it can never bring us true happiness.

If we fail to maintain a calm and peaceful mind, then no matter how much wealth or dollars we possess, we won’t necessarily be happy. For instance, many people staying in luxury hotels often don’t have smiles on their faces whereas poor people living in the mountains or people who live near monasteries in secluded places are much happier. Many young people may think that if they had more money, they would be happier. On the contrary, more money brings more suffering, and this has been proved by historical and personal experience.

In recent years a number of surveys in the US have shown that the more money a society possesses, the lower its happiness index will become. For this reason, I personally feel that many young people’s goals are somewhat misplaced since they think that only money, status and fame make a meaningful life. However, this is not necessarily the case. In our lives, we need to cultivate our character, have a sense of morality and foster an altruistic spirit. Only by making these efforts will our lives become more positive.

Many people in Thailand may think that the movie “Lost in Thailand” has enhanced the economy and promoted tourism and most of the population is probably grateful for this contribution. In actual fact, however, it is difficult to say whether this has been a real contribution or not. I worry that a similar phenomenon will happen in Tibet. If we continually promote tourism development, our traditional culture may ultimately disappear. There might not be anything left.

Nowadays on the Tibetan Plateau, such as the area where my monastery is located, there are still wide grasslands, lush forests and rich mineral deposits. Moreover, people have joyful smiles and are devoted in their beliefs. With the continued development of tourism, we may gain a lot of money. However, if we are not happy, there isn’t much point.

Even though you, as young people, hold the future in your hands, we together can’t escape the times we live in. It presents us serious constraints. The tides of the 21st century are very powerful, and while a small number of people may be aware of this, they don’t necessarily have the ability to do anything about it. It may be important to learn new things. However, we shouldn’t overlook the fact that traditional culture may be more meaningful. Although material wealth is greatly useful, we cannot afford to forget that inner peace is more important. Although science and technology play an important role in our daily lives, we should not forget that religious traditions carry much more meaning. The reason for this is that the happiness we gain from new things or material wealth is short-lived and impermanent whereas religion brings us more lasting happiness and greater benefit.

Our Responsibilities and Attitudes Toward Happiness

Each of us has the responsibility for seeking our own happiness. In the future, you will have your own families to support and thus need to work hard at your career. At the same time, we shouldn’t neglect the people around us or fail to work for the benefit of sentient beings. Likewise, we shouldn’t ignore our responsibility to conserve the planet’s resources.

For every single one of us, life is short and time passes so quickly, so I sincerely hope that everyone will do meaningful things with their lives. Those of us here today are not likely to die of hunger in this life. We are not in the same position as desperately starving people in some parts of Africa. However, it is possible that people from our walk of life may starve from a lack of spiritual food. I’ve observed many of my friends increase in wealth. Yet while they have become richer, they have become spiritually less well-off. Thus we have to keep a balance between our inner and outer worlds.

In terms of our material lives, it is okay for us to be contented with less. If we look down at the world from an airplane, human beings don’t seem so different from ants, and human cities don’t seem unlike ants’ nests. Like humans, ants have their own aims and ways of doing things. They are very industrious and work every day. They have their own different jobs and their own rhythm of life. Therefore, if we, as human beings, only labor away at our own narrow existences, in many respects we will be no different from ants. If we are oriented towards individual benefit rather than others’ well-being, how small our lives will be.

Many college students, although well-educated, are not as broadminded as they could be. Some of them cannot even handle the smallest of issues, and are completely inflexible. This brings great suffering not only to themselves, but also to the people around them. So when we are facing difficulties, we need to have courage and perspective. I have heard that in some universities some students choose to commit suicide when they encounter a rough patch in a relationship or in other areas of their lives. This phenomenon is quite prevalent in other countries. I would imagine the situation is less serious here, since most people have religious faith.

Sometimes, when we encounter problems, it seems there are no possible solutions. However, if we can see the slightest glimmer of hope, we should persevere and work through the difficulties. Because the ups and downs in our life are just like day and night, if we can just hold on, the temporary darkness of the night will recede into day, and the day itself will bring brightness and sunshine. Many people who lose hope and get lost in life do so because they can’t wait for the sun to rise in the morning. In this life we need perseverance and courage. It is my firm hope that our smiles can be long-lasting.

Thank you for your smiles.

Question & Answer Session

The Secret of Happiness

Why Do Some Religious Beliefs Cause Conflicts?

Question #1:

I am from Balochistan, Pakistan and completing a Master’s degree in Public Health, and I have two questions. In my point of view, when our mother gave birth to us the soul was with us inside, so happiness belongs to my soul and does not come from religion. Is there any relationship between religion and happiness?

The second question is, you said that a strong religious belief makes people or a country peaceful, but can you explain the fact that strong beliefs have caused numerous conflicts in the world, like what the Taliban in Afghanistan did in the 90s, or what Pakistan did in 1971, and nowadays what Pakistan and Iran are doing in western and eastern Balochistan, and last year what the Buddhists in Myanmar did with the Muslims. These are strong religious beliefs. Can they be peaceful for this universe or not? Thank you.

Khenpo Sodargye:

To answer your first question, according to a well-known survey from 2012, among the 7 billion people in the world, there are more than 5.8 billion people who have religious faith. As for non-believers, they may think it is possible to find true happiness within their souls. We can’t completely reject this idea. Honestly speaking, however, such happiness is quite different from that which religion can bring.

Comparing those with religious faith and those without, we can see this difference clearly. A while ago, when I was at Harvard University, someone told me that he used to believe that he needed nothing more than himself to be happy. But when he came to have religious faith, he found he was much happier than before. So I’d like to suggest that you think more about this issue. I’m not saying that only religion can bring us happiness, but the peace and joy obtained from religion is not commonly found elsewhere.

As for your second question, you mentioned that there were conflicts in the Middle East due to different religious beliefs. Indeed, the reality of such conflicts is always complicated. Politics is a brutal game, and many countries and interest groups will manipulate anything if it is to their own advantage. Every politician acts in his own interests, exploiting all kinds of means and weapons. So no matter which faction a politician supports, it is possible for them to take advantage of religion to further their own cause.

I have heard interviews in the international media with religious leaders from the Middle East. They unanimously asserted that their religions contained no doctrinal justification for violent conflict, terrorism or war. Nevertheless, there are groups of people who do carry out these activities under the banner of religion. The true message of all religions is love and kindness, and not war, terrorism or harming people.

Buddhist Ways of Happiness

Question #2:

I am from Myanmar. My question is, what makes us happy from the Buddhist point of view? And what kinds of practices make us happy?

Khenpo Sodargye:

There are many ways to achieve happiness in Buddhism. For instance, in Theravada Buddhism, practitioners meditate on white skeletons. I’ve been to many places in Thailand where practitioners do white skeleton meditation. In this practice, by contemplating the twelve links of dependent origination, happiness can be attained. This is one method in the Theravada tradition.

In Mahayana Buddhism there are also many practices, such as meditations on Bodhicitta, and particularly that of exchanging oneself with others. Bodhicitta is the aspiration of liberating all sentient beings in samsara. With such a vast and great motivation, it is possible for us to become Bodhisattvas and finally attain Buddhahood. When this happens, we will be the happiest persons in the world!

So, to sum up the Buddhist ways of achieving happiness, some bring happiness to both oneself and others, and some are just for the happiness of oneself. Different paths lead us to different levels of liberation and happiness.

Spiritual Food

Question #3:

I am an assistant professor from the Department of Public Health Administration. You have mentioned spiritual foods. Normally people may know when they need physical or organic food, but they do not know when they need spiritual food, which actually is very important for happiness. So my question is when and how to get spiritual food for everyone?

Khenpo Sodargye:

In terms of bringing happiness to others, spiritual and material happiness have things in common. In everyday life, you share with others the things you like yourself. For instance, you might recommend to someone your favorite brand of clothes or model of car. You might tell others, “You should buy this kind of car. It is so nice!” or “You should try on this shirt. It looks so great!” You are speaking on the basis of your personal experience.

It’s the same with spiritual food. Firstly, you need to cultivate yourself through traditional culture and spiritual practice, and once you have true experience, you can recommend this type of spiritual food to others. You can tell them, “I’m doing this practice. It makes me so happy!” In many cities and other places, and especially in mainland China where there used to be a lack of spiritual faith, as people come into contact with spiritual traditions, they derive a lot of happiness, and because of this, they share their personal experience with others. They say, “This religion is great; it will bring you happiness.” By word of mouth, an increasing number of people find out about religion. So by sharing our positive personal experiences, no matter whether spiritual or material, we can spread happiness to others and enable them to obtain genuine benefit.

Play Music to Cows

Question #4:

I am a piano player. I play piano to cows, but I’m also a professor. We want to change the cow into a good human being. Why do we need to change them? Sometimes they look, but do not see. They hear, but do not listen. They think, but not systematically. So what can we do to change cows into good human beings?

Khenpo Sodargye:

This is a tough question, I used the phrase “to play music to cows” to describe someone who lacks appreciation for something. As for cows, they don’t have many pursuits beyond eating grass and drinking water. But neither do they have too many worries. Their lifestyle is pretty simple.

But humans may think that there should be higher things in life. After all, everyone here is not a cow. Indeed, we are human beings! However, in this age, given the power of money and the influence of consumerism, many people have lost their orientation in life. So it is necessary for people to be aware that we should aspire to greater things. Therefore, it might be better to play the piano to humans instead of cows. In this way, you can easily enlighten both yourself and the people around you.

Put Religion into Practice to Get Happiness

Question #5:

You said that religions make people happy. I believe that if you practice your religion, you will get happiness. Some people know about religion, but they don’t really practice. So my question is how you motivate people to put their religion into practice in order to get real happiness?

Khenpo Sodargye:

Your question is right on the mark. The Buddhist teachings are very profound. Firstly, we need to understand their theoretical meaning and move on from there to contemplating the teachings deeply. During this process, all kinds of doubts may arise as we find ourselves questioning what we have learned. At this time we should work hard to resolve our doubts through a rigorous process of debate and discussion. When every doubt is cleared up, we can start to meditate on the meaning of the teachings.

There is a metaphor describing meditation, “Only after drinking the water can one tell how hot or cold it is.” Similarly, only after engaging in meditation can we know the joyfulness of practice. Initially this joy is difficult to communicate to others, because it is an inner personal experience. However, as our practice becomes increasingly stable, positively influencing others will happen quite naturally because these days many people are in real need of spiritual support.

The Secret of Happiness

Question #6:

I am from Nepal. In this world of material happiness, spiritual happiness and religions have taken a back seat. So my question is whether we really need religion to be happy? Or can we instead just do the best that we can, be content with what we have and dedicate ourselves to help others, in such a way as to achieve happiness? Do you really think religion is required to be truly happy?

Khenpo Sodargye:

As a person of religious faith, my greatest happiness in life has come from Buddhism. But as I mentioned before, Buddhism is inclusive. If someone is able to help others and be happy without religion, I’m fine with this. Buddhists are not interested in forcing anything on anyone. I have not and would never support this.

More than two thousand five hundred years ago, when the Buddha was teaching the Dharma, he never demanded that everyone accept what he said. I suppose other religions don’t force people either. So religion is about individual choice. It is completely acceptable if one feels happy without following any particular religion. No religion has a problem with this.

We always emphasize that religious believers and non-believers alike share one thing in common, and that is the striving to be a good and virtuous person. Since the basic teaching of all religions is to cultivate oneself and benefit others, if a non-religious person were also to live up to these ideals, they would be extremely noble indeed. In the end, what all religions advocate is being a good person. So it is not a must for someone to have religious faith.

Soul and Body

Non-Buddhist Ways of Approaching Happiness

Question #7:

Given that religion is not required for everyone, can you give some tips for the practice of happiness that are not from religion?

Khenpo Sodargye:

People who don’t have a religion can also be happy. Usually, there are two kinds of approaches to being happy. One is to maintain inner peace. Without inner peace, it is not possible to overcome mental suffering. In order to develop this inner peace, we need to diminish the greed and hatred in our minds. If we can do this, happiness will naturally arise.

The other way is to be devoted to the welfare of others. When people are less preoccupied with themselves, they automatically feel happier. Many people in this world without religious faith still feel very happy because they frequently help others.

Therefore, in my view, an effective means of achieving happiness is to generate inner peace, detach oneself from greed and hatred, and to actively benefit others.

How to Create Lasting Inner Happiness?

Question #8:

I am from south of Thailand, and my question is how to create inner happiness?

Khenpo Sodargye:

There are various kinds of happiness. For those who like music, singing is their way to happiness, even though it isn’t long-lasting. For those who like dancing, dancing is their way to happiness. Yet it is also temporary. For a number of young people, clothes, makeup and looking good make them happy. But when their youthful looks fade away, so does this source of happiness.

So if you want to have lasting happiness, in my mind, the best means is to meditate at a monastery, visualizing the Buddha. By training one’s mind in this way, happiness will naturally come to you, and it won’t change over time. This kind of happiness is unaffected by one’s age.

Religion in Politics

Question #9:

I don’t know if this question is related to this session or not. I would like to ask your opinion about whether religious leaders should be involved in politics. They have a great influence, and sometimes they are involved in some kinds of political activities. So what is your personal opinion on this?

Khenpo Sodargye:

In my opinion, regardless of whether someone is a religious leader or follower, getting involved in politics can be justified if it will benefit the greater humanity. If not, however, political involvement may not be a good idea. After all, the ultimate goal of religion is the common good of all humans.

Soul and Body

Question #10:

I am from Italy, from the world that has exported consumerism. One of the things that strongly affects western culture is the idea of the split between the soul and body. Now there is a strong dominance of consumerism, and the spiritual part has been left aside a bit. What advice could you give us, especially western people, on how to balance the imbalance between soul and body?

Khenpo Sodargye:

The age we’re living in now is quite different from times gone by. Over 200 years ago, Darwin came up with the theory of The Origin of Species, which was taken advantage of by Hitler. The Second World War then resulted in serious destruction of human life and physical landscape. Darwin’s Origin of the Species has had a very negative impact on human ethics in the East and West alike. Over the decades, there have been efforts by scientists to modify or refute this theory. However, its negative consequences have already spread over the world. So if we accept the split between the body and soul and only pay attention to the body, human happiness will be very difficult to attain.

In terms of what you just mentioned, I don’t find it easy to make suggestions because our modern lifestyle is very superficial. I have been to some western countries, and people there are also preoccupied by things like luxury items and blockbuster movies, none of which have much meaning. The things people talk about and the lifestyles they desire are ultimately lacking in real substance. For instance, many people who play online games find themselves lost in their own fantasy world. In this situation, I would really hope people can realize that the mind and body are in fact separate. Material enjoyment is only temporary while inner satisfaction can be enduring. Therefore, if we work to prioritize our inner peace, happiness can be easily realized. Yet if we fail to pay attention to our inner state and only follow the latest trends, then regardless of whether we come from the East or West, genuine happiness will continue to elude us.

Finding Happiness in Mind Training

Question #11:

I am from India, and I am a doctoral student here. So what is the easiest way to get inner happiness? Just go to a temple and sit there?

Khenpo Sodargye:

When you go to a bar, drinking and dancing with a crowd of friends, you might feel it’s an easy way to get high, and many people feel high at such moments. But it’s actually only a temporary feeling and won’t last long. This lifestyle, on the other hand, may eventually bring harm to your body. So what I suggest is to approach happiness through calm and peaceful ways.

In India there are various methods for training the mind, including those belonging to Buddhism. Although it is not easy to calm our minds in this modern fast-paced life, with effort we can still achieve results. There are many methods for relaxing the mind in the Hindu tradition, and a large number of people around the world, including many Chinese people, travel to India for Buddhism and yoga and derive happiness from their experiences. I believe that you Indians can also derive meaning in the same way.

In Tibet, many young Tibetans are searching for happiness but they don’t necessarily succeed, whereas people from outside come to Tibet and discover what they are looking for. So maybe you have something in common with a number of young Tibetans today!

Simple Tips on Meditation

Question #12:

I was born in Japan originally, but I moved around a lot. Before I came to Bangkok, I lived in Cambodia for a long time. I would like you to give us some advice on how to meditate? Just simply teach us how you do meditation.

Khenpo Sodargye:

The practice of Buddhism is rather similar to obtaining a college education. You need to work at it for a long time in order to get your diploma. In a similar way, Buddhist practice also happens step by step, beginning with preliminary practices, main practice and concluding practice.

There are various ways to meditate, and the best method is to sit straight, fix your gaze right at the space in front of you, tilt your chin slightly forward, fold your hands in the meditation mudra with arms slightly backwards. This is called the seven-point posture of Vairocana, and the shape of our body is similar to the form of an Egyptian pyramid. By maintaining this posture, our mind will naturally adjust itself. If you want to get lasting benefit from meditation, you need to persevere for more than a couple of days; otherwise you won’t necessarily see results. If you can practice with dedication, however, you will achieve calmness and discover the magical benefits of training the mind. So I believe with eyes closed, it is possible for us to experience inconceivable peace and happiness.

Buddhism & Young Generations

Question #13:

I am from Belgium. I am interested in what you say about Tibet, that the young people there also seem less interested in Buddhism. I’ve seen also in Europe that fewer young people are interested in religion and more interested in something related to money, like economics, attractive things. It’s a world of freedom where there are a lot of different opportunities. Some religions are trying to convert young people in Europe by adapting their religion. So how will Buddhism adapt to the younger generation?

Khenpo Sodargye:

These days, many young people are interested in things like cosmetic surgery, designer clothing, and watching movies and playing sports. They also like to talk about what kind of house or car they would like to buy and all kinds of ways of making money to get these things. Actually, when they get old and look back on their lives, they may discover that all these things they desire now are not that meaningful after all.

I have paid a lot of attention to this phenomenon. As Buddhists, our purpose is not to use religion to control people or force them to believe in our religion. It is not like marketing a product. Sincerely speaking, if people abandon all traditional religions, then the tireless pursuit of so many things in the end is just like chasing a rainbow. Therefore it would be best using skillful communication to let people become aware of what they really need. However this takes time and effort. It is possible that when people are ready to accept this, many precious opportunities will have already been lost.

As for myself, I deeply want to help as many young people as possible, but one person can only do so much, so I feel a sense of urgency. Currently we use the internet to let people know about the importance of traditional culture and religion and especially Buddhist teachings. I feel that young people are rational and will accept what is reasonable to them. Thus the best way to promote the positive values of wisdom and compassion is to make use of the internet, mobile platforms, and other forms of new media.

How Many Hours Do You Spend Sleeping?

Question #14:

I am from Maldives and I am a Muslim. I am particularly interested in religion and especially in scientific research related to religion. From what I know, people who meditate and wake up early in the morning and sleep well at night have less risk of depression and tend to be happier than others. I know that Buddhism is one of the religions that put a greater emphasis on inner peace. So I’m wondering as a master, at what time do you wake up in the morning and how many hours do you spend sleeping?

Khenpo Sodargye:

It seems you are very interested in this issue! In actual fact, I have read many books about health. I imagine everyone here is concerned about their own health both physically and mentally. It is true we need sufficient food, nutrients and sleep to maintain physical health. However, an article I recently read said that six hours of sleep may be adequate for human beings, and 8 hours of sleep or more may increase the risk of cancer. This study was published at and involved 1.1 million participants. So, although we do need sleep, doctors and scientists have not yet arrived at a consensus about the amount we need.

As for myself, when I was just ordained, I was very diligent in my studies and sometimes only slept for two, three or four hours. These days I tend to sleep for five or six hours, and sometimes even seven or eight hours when I am particularly tired. When I’m in a monastic setting, four or five hours of sleep is enough. Even when I was young, I didn’t need much sleep. When I was in school, among my dormitory mates, I was the one who needed the least sleep. And after my ordination, I also slept less than other monks. So now you know all about my sleep habits. I hope you are satisfied!



Thank you very much. Thank you everybody, especially Professor Nowarash for arranging this once in a long time – or maybe for some people once in a lifetime – event. And I am sure we all share a lot of wisdom and bring away a lot of happiness that Khenpo has given us. So let’s have a round of applause for Khenpo and show our appreciation for all the happiness that we have received.

Mahidol University